What I told my son about street harassment
Yesterday , I noticed my 18-year-old son had shared this on social media.
Upon seeing this, I decided to have an honest talk with him about women and street harassment.
I’ve seen the video of a woman walking in New York and getting catcalled, and I identified with it because that’s happened to me one too many times. I know there’s been a lot of controversy regarding this video, but I also know street harassment when I see it because I’ve been through it, and it’s not harmless.
What’s more, street harassment and the sort of abuse pictured on the right are two different levels of the same problem. Catcalling a woman and stoning her are two disgusting acts that come from the same dark place. Don’t think of one as more harmful than the other.
I’ve experienced street harassment many times, and it’s never ceased to be an unpleasant experience. I’ve been catcalled, followed, and groped, and I’ve hated every minute of it.
The first time I was catcalled, I was very young. Probably about 12 or 13 years old. A group of older boys did it as I walked past them. It made me feel terribly uncomfortable and self-conscious, like I wanted to hide under a rock.
I knew about catcalling at that age. I had seen it happen to other girls and women, and nobody said anything about. Only my mother and my grandmother had made grumbling comments about it being rude, so I understood catcalling was not acceptable.
But I didn’t know what to do about it. I was only a child.
Street harassment got really bad when I was older, during my high school years. I probably got catcalled every single time I walked down the street. And I hope you understand I’m not bragging about this in any way. Getting catcalled isn’t flattering at all. It’s gross.
As a woman, all I want is to be able to walk down the street and get where I’m going without having an unpleasant experience. But apparently, that’s too much to ask in our modern, “civilized” society.
When I was in college, I started having even worse experiences. I used to take several buses or subway trains to get to my college campus, and I usually had to deal with street harassment all the time.
Several times, I noticed a man would start walking alongside me and attempt to make conversation or grab my hand. Let’s make it clear this wasn’t harmless flirting. It was a man intruding into my personal space and making unwanted advances. It was street harassment.
Other times, a random man would come up to me when I was waiting for the bus or the subway and attempt to make conversation. In appearance, there wasn’t anything wrong with this.
However, these random men would try to intrude into my personal space by standing too close or by trying to touch my hand, my hair, or my face. Once again, this sort of advances are completely uncalled for and unwanted.
I would tell these men to stop talking to me and leave me alone, and they were usually very vindictive. I got called a bitch quite a few times simply because I wanted a random man to show a little respect.
But the worst experiences happened when I was already married and working.
As you know, working schedules can be brutal, so there was a time when I had to leave the house before seven o’clock in the morning, when it was still dark outside.
One morning, as I was walking towards the bus stop, I noticed a man was following me. I took several unexpected turns, crossed the street, and changed direction, but the man kept walking behind me. I panicked.
The first time this happened, I looked around for help, but it seems like everyone is always too busy to pay any attention to a panicked woman. That time, I decided to hail a cab instead of waiting for the bus. I had to pay a lot more for transportation that day, but I didn’t care.
The second time this happened, I noticed there was a policeman stading near a patrol car. I rushed over and told him there was a man following me, but when I looked around, the suspicious man was nowhere to be seen. The cop simply told me to be more careful. I’m not sure if he even believed me.
A couple of years later, I was walking to work after dropping off my son at day care, in broad daylight, when a random man walked past me and groped me. He thought it would be fun to squeeze my butt as he passed.
I immediately turned, but the man just kept on walking. I shouted at him, and asked him who the freaking hell he thought he was. He just laughed and called me a bitch. I got called a bitch because I demanded respect for my body and my personal space.
There were no cops in sight that time, and even though it was daytime, I didn’t see anybody else walking nearby. I felt alone, vulnerable, and violated. And there was nothing I could do about it.
I told all this to my son because I want him to understand how threatening the world can be for a woman.
Sometimes, the problem is that men don’t realize the problems women face because they can’t relate to them or even imagine them. In that case, it’s our job as women to speak out, so that men, and other women, can see the invisible problem right before their eyes.
Unfortunately, many men feel entitled to catcall, harass, and grope women when they choose. They do it because they think they can get away with it.
The worst part is that some women think they have to put up with this sort of behavior. Some women think they should feel flattered when they get catcalled, or when a man invades their personal space and makes gross, unwanted advances. Many women think this is the way men show their admiration.
And that’s the real problem right there. Because ladies, that’s no way for a man to show his admiration for you. In fact, when a man catcalls you, when he invades your personal space, and when he touches you without your permission, it’s not because he likes you. It’s because he doesn’t respect you and he doesn’t care for you, and he never will.
Make no mistake. Catcalling a woman is wrong, it’s rude, and it’s gross. Catcalling, groping, harassment, abuse, and rape are all different levels of the same problem. All these heinous acts come from the same dark place in a person’s mind. And none of them are harmless.
Sometimes, I wish men could walk for at least a day in a woman’s shoes to really see all the bullshit that we have to deal with.
But until that’s possible, all women should speak out and not let this issue go unnoticed. No woman should ever have to experience street harassment, or abuse, or rape. None of it is okay.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. Think about that, and then look around and see how people are treating women.
Ladies, let’s speak out and take back the respect we’re lacking. The future generations of women will thank us for it.